Guest blog by Jayson Calton, PhD and Mira Calton, CN
With so many outstanding varieties of fruits and vegetables available to us, how should we choose which ones to serve in our salads or steam for our side dishes? Just like a painter must have a variety of possible paint colors to choose from when creating his masterpiece, you too will benefit from choosing produce from the broadest range of colors. Think of optimal health as the finest masterpiece you can paint. In order to create it, you will need to consume foods of many different colors. In our book Rich Food, Poor Food we explain how a fruit or vegetable’s color can tell you a lot about what micronutrients it will deliver. The specific plant compounds determine the color of the skin it, and those in the same color family will deliver similar nutrients and health benefits. Your job is to add a bit of each color to your daily dietary color palette so that you can obtain an ideal range of micronutrients every day and paint your optimal health masterpiece.
From crimson and cardinal to ruby and rose, it is two antioxidants, lycopene and anthocyanin, that are responsible for the red color of produce. The first, lycopene, is a powerful antioxidant associated with reduced incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration. It is also said to lower LDL (the so-called bad cholesterol), enhance the body’s immunity, and protect enzymes, DNA, and cellular fats from free radical damage. Lycopene is also great for athletes, as it may help with shortness of breath and exercise-induced asthma. Anthocyanin, which is richly concentrated in the pigments of berries, has been shown to possibly aid in pain relief, depression, and anxiety.
Orange foods are orange because of their high levels of a micronutrient known as beta-carotene. As the orange member of a family of plant pigments called carotenoids, beta-carotene is most often associated with oranges (as we would expect), winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, mangoes, and cantaloupe, to name a few. Beta-carotene is also known as pro-vitamin A, because it can convert to vitamin A (retinal) once inside your body. However, a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the rate of this conversion is likely near 21 to 1. So if you are looking for the cancer-fighting, anti-viral, eyesight-improving benefits of vitamin A, you will want to eat a lot of beta-carotene!
Yellow foods are touted for their high levels of beta-cryptoxanthin, the brain-booster we discussed in the pumpkin comments. Eat and get smarter with yellow squash, yellow bell pepper, pineapples, grapefruits, and yellow sweet corn.
You may remember from your middle school science class that green plants and vegetables get their green color from a substance called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll has been shown to be antibacterial and stimulate the growth and maintenance of lean muscle tissue. Green foods are also the richest source of the dynamic duo zeaxanthin and lutein (more carotenoids), which have been shown in many studies to reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
PURPLE AND BLUE
The rich blue and purple tones in your produce are courtesy of some pretty special flavonoids called anthocyanins. These colorful characters are powerful antioxidants that protect your cells from damage. They may reduce cancer and stroke risks, improve memory, and even aid in longevity. The variety of shades is almost as impressive as the long list of health benefits. You won’t have anything to be blue about when your health is improved from enjoying these bold-colored beauties, including plums, grapes, berries, and eggplant.
When you think about apples, bananas, and cucumbers, the color white is probably not what jumps to mind. However, it is the white flesh of these fruits and vegetables that brings them to our white painter’s palette. Add to that list cauliflower and pears, and you have a set of superstars that can reduce stroke risk by 52 percent! A recent ten-year study concluded that these white- fleshed fruits and vegetables, rich in the flavonoid quercetin, were better than green, orange, yellow, red, or blue/purple fruits and vegetables at reducing the risk of strokes. That apple a day may just keep the doctor away after all!
Remember: How you prepare your produce is just as important as choosing what to eat.
Learn more by watching this video of the Caltons discussing the rainbow on TV. You can find lots of delicious micronutrient pack recipes using a wide variety of these colorful foods in our new book The Micronutrient Miracle.